Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is about as visually awe-inspiring as its title would have you believe. Full of creative ideas from director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Lucy), Valerian unfortunately struggled to get past its own mediocre characters and bizarre writing.
The film takes place in the 28th century, where special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) act as peacekeepers of the universe. They are tasked with a very important mission that sends them to the thriving, culturally diverse city of Alpha, also known as the City of a Thousand Planets. There, Valerian and Laureline discover a dark force that threatens the safety of everyone within the city, and must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.
In usual Luc Besson fashion, Valerian possesses engaging and appealing visuals, but incredibly bizarre writing and characterization. Take the opening scene of the film for example, where we are introduced to an alien race that are unfortunately killed off in a planetary explosion. The aesthetics of this scene are pretty breathtaking, as the audience is given a nice glimpse into the unfamiliar culture of this race. Yet, everything that happens is so strange and off-putting that I was genuinely confused as too its purpose. There were plenty of moments that were supposed to be charming that either had me laughing hysterically or completely shocked.
The acting in Valerian wasn’t much different, as the remarkably poor performances of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne had me giggling through most of the flick. Dane DeHaan was particularly bad, as it seemed like he was doing his best “Keanu Reeves on Nyquil” impression. Both of them seemed so disinterested in what was happening in the story that I couldn’t help but feel the same way.
By the third act of the film, scenes began to drag and get very heavy-handed, especially when we drew close to the disappointing climax. By this point it became obvious that the entire purpose of the flick was to force-feed the audience political and social commentary, all of which comes off as way too forced and gimmicky. The well-meaning politics overall do very little for the film, other than to make the obvious villain just a one-dimensional, boring character.
The few strengths of Valerian weren’t in its ability to give us interesting characters or tell a cohesive story, but in its capacity to immerse the viewer in a vast, all-encompassing universe. From the first moment I saw the City of a Thousand Planets, the location in which most of the film takes place, I was completely mesmerized by all the wonderful aesthetics. Many of the creatures we come across in the film are designed very creatively as well, and are brought to life with great use of practical effects and costumes.
However, rather than focusing on the immersive atmosphere and truly creative ideas, Valerian spends its time focusing on a jumbled plot and characters that are honestly pretty loathsome. I had no interest in the relationship between DeHaan and Delevingne, and the plot felt way too disorganized for what it was. I wish I could’ve enjoyed the film more than I did, but even the countless moments where Valerian got so bad it was humorous weren’t enough to save it from its own painful writing.
The Verdict: D+